THIS EDITION HAS BEEN REPLACED BY A NEWER EDITION
Naturally, in a book about Arab history, a great deal of emphasis is put on Islamic religion, which is perhaps the most potent force shaping Arab history and culture. In a way therefore this book also offers an excellent introduction to Islam and Islamic history. Nevertheless, I would have liked to see more material about pre-Islamic times. Furthermore, while the title "Arab peoples" acknowledges the fact that most of the modern-day "Arabs" are descended from non-Arabs who at some point adopted Arab language and culture, this point is not made explicit in the text, and the pre-Arab history of these peoples is ignored. Having said that, I admit that it is impossible to include any more information about Arab history in the same number of pages (500), making this book a definite accomplishment. It is an excellent and readable introduction to Arab history, and a lead to other more specialized books (listed in the 27-page bibliography). The index alone reads like a who's who in Arab history.
While being extremely detailed about historical social practices and religious thought, Hourani left out key historical periods.
If you want to come to better understanding of Arab society, I am sure that you can find a more concise book that does not neglect / ignore key world events.
Although the book is entitled "A History of the Arab Peoples," it also covers a great deal of Persian and Turkish/Ottoman history. Despite the tremendous scope of time and space - over 1300 years and spanning from Spain to the East Indies - Hourani furnishes the reader with a solid view of the many currents that underlie modern Islam.
I hope that this book will help provide a more nuanced understanding of the Islamic and Arab world - a world that is often viewed as monolithic by the West. Aided perhaps by the survey nature of the text, the political bent of the book will be viewed as "balanced" by most non-partisan readers.